Exploring Beijing, English tea parties, and egg soup
Xia wu hao (good afternoon) loyal blog followers,
Another two weeks on from my last blog post, I thought it was about time to give you all a bit of an update about how life in China is going!
Last weekend Sarah and I took the 2hr 47min train ride to Beijing for a weekend of culture and fun. Having been stuck in Xingtai for a month - and I mean stuck in the nicest way possible, I am rather fond of Xingtai but there isn't an awful lot to do - we were keen to have a dose of big city life in el capital. We were looking forward to things like:
-Not getting stared at in alien-esque fashion
-Talking English to other English people
- Temples and stuff
And I'm pleased to say that the trip was a success on all four counts!
We stayed in a really cool hostel, where the manager was really nice to us as turns out she was from Xingtai (small world!) and where we met our friend Rachel - another English teacher who we met on the orientation in Beijing. We spent Saturday afternoon wandering round Jingshan Park. Jingshan Park is opposite the north gate of the Forbidden City, and was apparently shaped from the earth excavated to create the palace moat. This essentially means that it contains a big hill, with several small pagodas at the top which give great views over the rooftops of the Forbidden City as well as panoramic views of Beijing itself. Not just handy for its great views though, the hill is also said to help protect the Forbidden City from any evil spirits who may choose to attack from the north. On Saturday evening we headed to Sanlitun - or 'bar street' - a bustling area in eastern Beijing which contains lots of restaurants and, you guessed it, bars. We met Sebrina, another English teacher from the orientation in Beijing, for a Mexican meal which included what may actually be the best nachos and burritos I have ever tasted… (although I was craving non-Chinese food so much I think anything would have tasted like music to my tastebuds). We then met Rich and Chris - more teachers! - and spent the remainder of the evening / early hours sipping cold Tsingtao, chatting away, and maybe even dancing a bit in several of Sanlitun's finest drinking establishments.
Sunday started with a tepid shower, then hearing Sarah being sick through the thin walls of the bathroom (Katie - this reminds me of your exploits!) but got loads better - we headed to the Temple of Heaven and spent hours wandering around the grounds (all 267 hectares of them) in the spring sunshine. A bit of history - the Temple of Heaven was a place where people prayed for good harvests, as well as other important stuff like divine clearance and atonement. The temple halls themselves are round in shape, and the bases square, shapes symbolizing heaven and the earth respectively.From the moment we walked through the East gate we loved it there - one of the first things we saw was a big square with loads of trees and people dancing happily, haphazardly and unashamedly to traditional Chinese music. Just loads of strangers, dancing together, and having a great time. It's the opportunity to observe- and get involved in- sights like this that travelling is all about for me. After a bit of hip swaying we walked deeper into the park and toward the temple buildings themselves. The sky was a perfect shimmering blue, and the brightly coloured and ornately decorated facades of the temple halls stood out beautifully and brilliantly against it. Seeing colours and detail like that never gets boring. An ice cream and a whole lot of wandering later, we left the Temple of Heaven Park and headed to the nearby Pearl Market to put our haggling skills to the test. I do love a good market! They're bustling and colourful and the vendors usually have a good sense of humour even if they can be a tad pushy. In the end all I bought was a little panda key ring thingy as a present for Cathy (my teaching assistant) but Sarah got some cool stuff like a Mahjong set and a pretty butterfly wall hanging and a red backpack to aid our trips to Fruit and Vegetable street back in Xingtai. We had of course worked up quite an apetite by then, and what better way to satisfy it than to indulge in the traditional Chinese cuisine of…. Curry! Haha. We found a lovely little Indian / Thai restaurant where, if I closed my eyes, I could almost pretend I was back on Manchester's Curry mile... but then I opened them and it was even better because I was eating yummy curry but in much much more exciting surroundings and didn't have to catch a Magic Bus home. Ah! After dinner we headed to one of the big cinema complexes on the off chance that an English film would be on, and much to our delight we managed to get tickets to see 'Alice in Wonderland'. I love going to the cinema abroad! And I really enjoyed the film - probably mainly because I'd quite like to fall down a rabbit warren one day and meet Johnny Depp - and the comically large Chinese subtitles weren't even that annoying.
On Monday we managed to fit in a trip to the Lama Temple (no, not llama temple, sorry to disappoint)! It's apparently the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, and was very impressive and also incredibly peaceful. The whole place has a great atmosphere, and is full of people - visitors and monks alike - burning incense in tribute to Buddha. There are lots of different pavilions to wander around, each of which is full of ornate statues and prayer pews. The most impressive statue was definitely the 18 metre high statue of the Maitreya Buddha which is said to have been carved from a single block of sandalwood. It was immense! Sarah and I stood for ages just gaping up at it. After we recovered though, we headed to international mini-mart 'Jenny Lou's' which we heard was a haven for westerners in Beijing with food cravings for which Chinese supermarkets did not cater. And it did not disappoint - we stocked up on a couple of packets of pasta, some cheese and a tin of baked beans to provide the occasional taste of home to our eastern diet. Then we just had time for a spot of lunch in a fancy French bakery; with a rather attractive Chinese speaking French baker, chocolate milkshake, and normal tasting bread - not the horrible sweet stuff everyone eats in china but real BAGUETTE, before getting the train back to Xingtai vowing to return to Beijing again very soon.
English tea parties
In an tremendous display of self-discipline, which I must admit even I did not realize I was capable of, I managed to save the Cadburys chocolate fingers that my parents sent in their parcel for two whole weeks before all the Chinese English teachers at our training centre were free for a bit of an English tea party. They had never tasted English tea before; so armed with teabags, UHT milk, and plastic cups we made seven cups of English tea for seven English teachers, and cracked open the chocolate fingers. Honestly, I will never take Cadburys for granted again. The chocolate fingers tasted amazing, especially when dipped into the milky tea, and it made me think: who says the English don't have a national cuisine we can be proud of?!
We've been here for six weeks now, so have managed to get fairly competent at cooking a fair few Chinese dishes. But it was time, we felt, for a culinary challenge…! When the Chinese English teachers came round a few weeks ago one of them - Janet - cooked this delicious egg soup (nicer than it sounds I promise!) and armed with the ingredients, but no cooking instructions, we set about trying to replicate it. Long story short, all we succeeded in making was a mess - we added the egg when the broth was too hot so ended up with a kind of scrambled-eggs-in-oniony-tomatoey-water monstrosity. It looked like anaemic brain. Needless to say it went straight in the bin, but we have vowed to get Janet over one day soon for a cooking class so we can learn how to do it properly
Exploring Beijing, English tea parties and egg soup aside, the past two weeks have been pretty busy - have mainly been at work planning lots of lessons and outdoor activities. Things are continuing to go quite well teaching-wise, the weather is truly spring-y, and we're hoping to go to Xi'an in a few weeks time where we might get to see some Pandas. So life is good!
Hope Easter is treating you all well. Please drop me an email / blog comment to let me know how you're doing!
Loads of love,